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How to Laser Engrave Photographs

While laser engraving photographs remains one of the hottest and most unique engraving trends, it also seems to be one of the most misunderstood.

How to Laser Engrave Photographs

Creative problem-solving is one of the keys to making great finished products.

By Deanna Ramm, owner, Centex Laser Engraving & Embroidery

(Originally printed in the November/December 2022 issue of Insights.)

While laser engraving photographs remains one of the hottest and most unique engraving trends, it also seems to be one of the most misunderstood.

Through teaching a few classes and webinars, it seems everyone is thrilled about the end product, often with some oohs and ahhs. At the same time, we’ve received feedback saying the actual process of converting and engraving photos feels a bit daunting.

Let’s work to change your perception of the process and get you engraving photos in no time!

Starting Point

There’s no better place to start than with the artwork. If it comes to us in the right format, with the optimum dots per inch (DPI), great. If we have to pursue a multi-step process that happens before we hit “print,” that’s OK too. All good engraving starts with good artwork.

For an example, let’s use the image in Figure 1. Looking at the picture objectively, you can see that it’s a good vector art image, meaning little would need to be done to engrave this image onto almost anything. 


Figure 1

Engraving any line-art image is more of an absolute. We look at the lines and the spaces between them. And, in the most basic terms, we work to smooth any rough edges. Easy, right?

When we look at Figure 2, our first instinct is to see it through the same black and white lens—that we see with line art.


Figure 2

Like the shades of gray in the variants between black and white, this is where the process for converting photos resides. The process is about learning what to look for in the original photograph that will give you an idea of how to change the picture into what it will become.

Although the picture is as different as the process to convert it for engraving, you are already familiar with the software used to transform it. And, as you will see, there are no magic or specific settings that apply to every picture.

For most of us, we would not walk up to a trumpet and simply know how to play it. Similarly, converting photos for engraving photos takes practice.


We all want to start with high-quality pictures. But that’s often unlikely. Knowing how to resample, convert to grayscale and invert the colors of a picture are the key beginning steps. (We are using CorelDRAW, but there are similar steps in most art software programs.)

How to resample a bitmap:
Click the bitmaps dropdown and select the “Resample” tool. The resample tool pulls up a dialog box, which allows for a DPI adjustment.

For any line art, we know that a higher DPI will give us a “fuller” image. But for engraving photos, a higher DPI will blur the image and make for a frustrating result. We have found that 300-400 DPI generally seems to be a sweet spot. (If you have too many dots, it can lead to a result that’s too dark and/or has less balance.)

When engraving, set the DPI to the same setting as you used when converting the photograph.

To convert to grayscale, click the bitmaps dropdown, then click “Mode, Grayscale (convert to TRUE grayscale).” Inverting colors from Grayscale will always be the last step before sending it to the laser. To do so, after the changes are complete, go to the effects menu, select “Transform” then “Invert Colors.”

These are the first steps for any photo engraving, and, for many photos, these steps will produce a great engraved product.

Picture Adjustments

Ask yourself: Is the detail in this picture where I think it should be? In grayscale, how close is the converted image to the original picture? How are the darks/lights? How is the balance in the picture?

The answers to these questions determines the next step(s). All the following tools can be found in the “Effects” dropdown.

  • If you need crisper edges and better definition, use the sharpen tool.
  • If you need better balance between the shadows, mid-tones and highlights in the image, use the tone curve image.
  • If you need further sharpening to cancel out lower frequencies, select the unsharp mask.
  • If you need to pick up detail in low contrast images without significantly affecting the shadows or the highlights, use the gamma effect.

Take a good look at your picture. What do you see? What does it need more or less of?

Your picture may need one of these effects, or it may need all of them. When you use each tool, watch what happens as you make changes and adjust accordingly.

As you practice, you will learn to see the balance needed to engrave successfully. After working with different effects, you will be able to see all the ways they affect the picture and how that will turn into engraving success.

No Two Alike

We recently had the privilege of creating a memorial plaque for a police dog that passed away and were sent the phone pictures in Figures 2 and 3.


Figure 3

Looking at them initially, we felt there was better balance in Figure 2. We liked the color difference between the dog and the background, the detail in the flowers and the grass, and the position of the dog.


Figure 4

Through the process of training your eye to see the changes that need to be made, engraving the pic at this point shows you the true sharpness of the picture and the balance between dark and light when it’s engraved (Figure 4). This version provides the guidance for further modifications.

There is some detail in this picture, but all of the sharpness is gone. So much of the dog disappeared and became dark. During the initial assessment, we determined that the sharpness is good. However, due to the dark areas in the dog’s fur, we needed to adjust the light and shadow balance.


Figure 5

Look at Figure 5 to see the benefit of the tone curve tool. There is far more detail in the overall color and balance, and the details in the fur; but the grass and flowers have now disappeared. There’s too much light in the background and too much shadow around the dog. The tone curve corrections bring the sharpness back into focus.

You can see how the image was further modified with the tone curve tool in the the bottom half of the picture: the grass detail is coming back and the detail in the fur remains. But this is not the engraved picture we want. Compared to the original, it still has too much light, taking away the detail in the grass and the lighter parts of the dog.


Figure 6

We tried making further corrections (Figure 6), but sometimes you swing too far in the other direction. (Thank goodness for the undo button.)

We took another look at the two pictures and began to process the second one instead. We followed the same steps, using the tone curve tool. After all, this process doesn’t always work for us on the first try either. We again looked at the balance between the colors and shadows and sharpened what needed to be sharpened. Also, always remember to invert the colors.

The engraved step-by-step item is spray-painted cast acrylic; and the final memorial plaque is finished off with standoffs and a black-stained wood back.


Figure 7

At last, we ended up with the beauty in Figure 7.

Final Thoughts

Remember, there are no quick fixes. While there are a number of scripts out there, no one solution works on every picture. Except for you. You can put in the work, have the vision and make the finished product look magical.

We are all in a feel-good industry: The items we create make people feel good, and laser engraving photographs certainly fits that bill.

Laser engraving is always changing, and engraving photographs in all its forms remains one of the hottest trends! Where will it take you?

Learn more

Feel free to reach out to us discuss photo engraving: Also, don’t hesitate to ask about the other items we frequently engrave: black tumblers, black spray-painted white ceramic tiles, anodized black aluminum business cards and grey/black leatherette. The steps for engraving these items are similar to the steps described in the article.

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